In a society that elevates white people and heteronormative relationships, the word family has come to suggest a white dad, a white mom and their two white children living in the suburbs. In Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance, however, DePaul University professor Francesca Royster provides a look at what family really means. It’s an expansive word that encapsulates what folks from all backgrounds have always done, especially within systems that can separate biological family members: blending both blood relatives and those chosen through adoption, marriage or simple affection.
Royster brings readers along for her journey into motherhood as a queer woman fashioning a family. This includes not only the story of adopting a daughter with her wife, Annie, but also research about and with Black and queer chosen families. By artfully interweaving her own story with the work of scholars of African American and queer studies, Royster adds weight to her lived experience without distracting from the narrative. This approach also provides fuller context about the history of these marginalized identities for readers who do not share them.
Having a child inspires many parents to reflect on their own ancestral histories and families of origin, and this is certainly true for Royster. Throughout Choosing Family, she introduces the many mothers who came before her in her family line: her great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mother and stepmother, each of whom formed families from both blood and choice. For example, when her parents divorced, Royster’s mother created a family from deep friendships with strong, nurturing women. These relationships set the foundation for Royster to one day create the family she wanted, one that didn’t necessarily match the traditional image of family.
Parenthood is complex, and readers will feel Royster’s anticipation, joy and deep love, along with her fear. Her writing style has a smooth cadence and makes you feel like you’re with her every step of the way as she raises her daughter in a family that is Black, queer and chosen.